Most of the choices we make have an impact on people, animals, and ecosystems around the world. The products we choose to buy, the politicians we choose to vote for, the organizations we choose to support, the conversations we choose to have, everything we do, no matter how seemingly small and trivial, has an impact. The problem is that more than ever before, we are disconnected from the consequences of our choices. I believe that, if we could see what is really happening around the world we would make very different choices and we would find the energy and motivation to be more conscious on every level of our lives.
Far from our sight…
For instance, deforestation is ongoing in every second of every day. Forty football fields of intact tropical forests are cut down every minute, yet we only get a couple of glimpses of this destruction throughout the year. Usually, when we do get to witness what hides behind this statistic, we react. Do you remember the video of the orangutan standing alone, confused and desperate in the middle of what yesterday was his intact home, fighting helplessly against a machine of destruction? That video was shared across every platform and articles about it were translated in almost every language. So many people saw it, so many people reacted to it, and so many took some kind of action, because of it. This was just one video of a tragedy that happened in one place in a single day. If we could somehow see what goes on, if we could see the misery of deforestation in its gruesome details, we would be so much more involved in fighting against it.
The destruction of a single tree in an old-growth forest brings death and carnage. The bird’s nests are destroyed the eggs and the chicks are crushed on the ground, the dens of mice are uprooted and smashed. The animals who manage to flee no longer have a home. Witnessing just this single incident could cause a strong emotional reaction in so many people. Yet when we hear the statistic that 40 football fields of forests are destroyed in every minute, that means almost nothing to us. It’s tough to picture this one minute of devastation, it’s really hard to imagine the scale over a day of destruction and this makes it nearly impossible to have an appropriate emotional reaction to the level of tragedy involved in this kind of destruction.
I can’t speak for everybody, but I know that most people would defend a family of monkeys, birds or a thousand years old tree, given that they are emotionally connected to it. Our political opinions matter much less when we can witness the ruin first hand. Most people oppose destructive and polluting projects that would damage the natural areas they know and cherish.
When a tragedy is thousands of kilometers away from us and remains completely hidden, we fail to have an empathetic reaction. This is particularly true for humanitarian disasters.
When we hear that since 2015, 80000 people died in the war in Yemen, it’s one thing. But if we could see a video each day that captures the brutal death of a child as well as the suffering of the family, that lingers for months and years after, I bet we would have a very different reaction. I bet we would care enough to question the choices of our politicians, we would care enough to question the efficacy of our international institutions. We wouldn’t wait for years to end a war, we would demand swift and non-violent action.
It’s one thing to hear that around 15000 children die from malnutrition every day, it’s another thing to witness the agony of the family, the despair of the mother and the sorrow of the whole community seeing their children die from preventable causes. If we could really witness their anguish, we would question our international trade policies much more. We would have a much easier time understanding that they fail to serve the interests of millions of people around the world. We would be willing to question the profits that giant multinational companies put in their pockets, while a fraction of that money would save the lives and reduce or eliminate the suffering of millions of people every day.
But we don’t see these things…
We’ve decided that the sole goal of media corporations is to generate profits for their shareholders. Investing in real journalism and opposing the most powerful corporations and politicians is, unsurprisingly, not very profitable. There are much cheaper and easier ways to push our buttons and keep our eyeballs stuck on the screens.
Modern technology allows us to see more, but we’re so far from having a clear picture. I can imagine a future where our media technologies are much more immersive and effective. Envision a virtual reality headset that immerses us in a rainforest that’s being destroyed, where we can hear the falling trees or smell the burning corpses. We can’t afford to wait for these technologies to come in play, we can’t wait for the corporate media to start doing their job. We’re never going to get there unless we put an end to the destruction today.
Imagination and empathy
If the media and the technology can’t provide us with the needed connection, we have to use our imaginations. When you hear about a forest being razed or burned, try to picture it in your head, use your imagination for a minute or two. Don’t try to imagine a million hectares of destruction all at once. Our brains are simply not wired to think on such scales. Try to imagine one tree, you can do that pretty well. One big, hundred years old tree covered in lichens and moss, image its majestic crown. Imagine the ants, that have their nest at its feet, imagine the birds in its branches and the worms in its roots. Start from there and try to expand the picture to tens, hundreds and thousands of these trees, with all the astonishing variety of mammals, birds, and insects who lose their homes and lives forever. Imagine all of this intricate beauty that took millions of years to develop, being destroyed in a single moment for things that we could have done differently.
When you hear about statistics of war don’t think that just some random people died somewhere in a forsaken corner of the world. Imagine that your friend died, imagine that they were killed by a bomb. Because that’s what happened. That person had friends and they got the news about the death of their loved one. They felt exactly what you would feel if a bomb would have killed one of the people you care about.
Meditate on these thoughts of death and destruction and maybe you’ll feel the need to take action. Don’t do something stupid and violent, do something beautiful and constructive instead, we have enough violence in this world. Do something hard, do something brave. Speak to your friends, change your habits, talk to your politicians, challenge the powerful institutions and take them in your control. Make them serve what you care about, instead of the needs of shareholders of military and extractive corporations.
When you think about it deeply enough, I bet that regardless of your political opinions, what you care about is the fate of living creatures, you care about the health and wellbeing of your fellow humans, you care about the beauty of the Earth.
Thank you for reading the whole article, in today’s world most people rarely get past the headline or the first paragraph. This post doesn’t contain a shocking headline, or an inflammatory narrative, so it’s very unlikely that it will please social media’s algorithms which promote sensationalism and outrage. If you think that more people should read this, go back on Facebook and interact with the post, comments and shares are highly appreciated. Below you will find the list of people who chose to support my work with a small donation, join them and help me keep this website online and free from advertisements.
Steve the Bartender